By Albert Rudatsimburwa
Who will pick up the pieces when the western powers leave?
When Presidents Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila met in Goma on August 9, 2009, to mark the end of more than a decade of hostilities between Kigali and Kinshasa, it was historical. Both leaders had decided to turn the page and literally work together towards making this region a conflict free zone, prosperous in nature and conducive to mutual business opportunities. According to many well-advised observers, this was to be the first step of a long and difficult journey.
To make this a reality, both sides had to make a show of goodwill towards the other, and by doing so prove that they were ready to go the extra mile for the sake of common interests.
This was the logic behind Rwanda’s intervention when Gen. Laurent Nkunda was marching on Goma during the war between Kinshasa and the rebel CNDP. Rwanda would later go a step further by supporting the idea of casting aside Gen. Nkunda for the sake of better integration of the CNDP into the new Congolese landscape.
The message was loud and clear: Kigali wanted nothing more than being on the best of terms with Kinshasa and proved it.
But with so many casualties and victims of war, so many people displaced and so much hate propaganda for so long, who in their right mind would bet on such a horse? How do you reconcile a people in such a context of fear, hate, ignorance, and worries of possible revenge killings that could potentially escalate in a never-ending cycle of violence in the region?
The leadership of both countries did in fact put in place different mechanisms meant to monitor and reinvent the future for both countries. The joint military operations and the Joint Permanent Commission (JPC) are the results of this vision. And both sides have appreciated the deliverables. The FDLR has been pushed back and partially neutralised, the CNDP case was resolved through political means and their combatants integrated in the FARDC and the road for a closer economic integration is well underway thanks to the JPC.
The DRC, being only at the early stages of a post-conflict society, has been under constant pressure from the international donor community through their local representatives; external powers that differ most often than not in perspective and vision on how to handle the “under reconstruction” DRC.
Even the best intentioned amongst them seems to only focus on areas of self-interest and fail to consider the local and regional dynamics and contexts. Their failure to do so constantly puts at great risk a much too young and fragile peace. Case in point: Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. In a show of absolute disregard to the more than inappropriate timing, this not so ‘gentle’ man tweeted President Kagame to encourage the arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda during the 18th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide of the Tutsi. The timing chosen by Mr. Roth goes way beyond insensitivity towards the plight of survivors of the Genocide (as this was his only message addressed to Rwanda from that organisation); it was clearly meant to create a buzz at a time where all eyes were on Rwanda. Ultimately, this move only goes to show the mercenary nature of such organisations claiming to be guided by humanitarian sentiments for the greater good of mankind.
A heavily criticised presidential election in DRC gave the Western donors’ society the opportunity to exercise quite some pressure and maintain a grip on the newly re-elected President Kabila. France for instance threatened to cut back on development cooperation and to move the next Francophonie Summit scheduled to be hosted by the DRC to another country. Really?! As if France was a criminal free country! Last time I checked, it was and still is a safe haven for genocide perpetrators and war criminals.
The pressure on President Kabila went up ten levels when he was asked to handover Gen. Bosco Ntaganda who had previously been integrated into the DRC national army three years ago alongside other CNDP combatants as part of the process to restore the authority of the central government and peace in the Kivu. Despite the presence of so many UN troops on the ground, the international community was not ready to do the job; the responsibility was left to the Congolese. Amani Leo, Umoja Wetu, the integration and pacification of Eastern Congo was to be sacrificed on the altar of western donors.
The war that ensued from this pressure is today indeed jeopardising the process of pacification and reconstruction started in 2009. The number of victims, deaths and rapes and the displaced populations has simply skyrocketed as a result of this. Is this the outcome expected by the ICC, HRW and the West? How will this all end? Who will pick up the pieces of a broken down DRC? How close are we of falling back to square one?
For now Kinshasa is not healing the wounds but rather deepening them.
More actors have now taken center stage. FDLR fighters are very active again and so are the militia, the Mai Mai and others, putting the Congolese populations of the Kivu at more risk, while making life impossible for President Kabila.
How deep do we have to descend in horror? If the Congolese government persists in this conflict it will be even more difficult to move out of it. And a small movement like the M23 or otherwise will have all the reasons to grow and challenge Kinshasa.
During the last High-level meeting of the JPC in Kigali, the Congolese Foreign Affairs Minister said: “…if love exists, it needs to be shown or materialised”. What more can Rwanda do to show the “love”?
Reasonably, President Kabila should know that in the short or the long run he can count more on Rwanda and the region than on the international community. A homegrown solution is worth much more than Washington, Paris and Brussels, ICC or HRW’s vision of the future for the DRC. On that inevitable day when they eventually turn away, the Congolese will be left with only their neighbors to contend with.